Specialized Turbo S Long Term Review

Welcome to the long awaited review of the Specialized Turbo S.  The “pedalelec” is an electric pedal assist bicycle for those of you not yet hip on such terminology.  From a newly updated control interface (what you use to configure the Turbo) to a more powerful battery, this bicycle can go about 40 miles at 30 miles an hour.  For locals that know the DC area, that would be like coming into the city from here:

40 miles on 66However, it certainly never takes the quoted 41 minutes by car unless it’s 11:28 pm on a Thursday night (according to googlemaps).  The great news is that you’ll never have to spend all that time sitting in traffic if you’re flying down the taxpayer supported trails of the greater Washington DC metro area or wherever you might live.  It’s a bike that leaves everyone smiling the first time they use one and was designed for commuting and recreation by some of Europe’s best bicycle experts with Specialized.  Every single person I have ever seen test ride or own one is smiling ear to ear afterward.

Group ride bikes lined up in three sizes, S, M, L
Group ride bikes lined up in three sizes, S, M, L

This review intends to convey the nature of the bicycle and how it operates as well as issues encountered from a maintenance standpoint over a long period of usage.  I would be the first to admit that, amongst a few expected difficulties, it is a machine worth the investment and is a forefront in the future of this class of bicycles.

Building a Turbo out of the box is not altogether difficult and can be done by most shops with some attention to detail and a thorough reading of the manual.  You might recall from my original article that I attended a seminar on how to operate and work on the Specialized Turbo in Miami back in 2013 and it definitely helped to have time properly set aside to fully understand how it works and how to replace components and fix others in the past few months of research.  With a final recent repair of the regeneration mode activated hydraulic disc brakes by Magura, I felt there was sufficient photos and information to write a good “one-stop” informal manual in case you run into a similar situation.  As started, the build includes normal things like truing the wheels which are installed on the bike with thru-axles and have torque specs located right at each point on the frame and fork.  These specs are important as this bicycle will undergo higher stresses than a majority of other bicycles at higher speed.

So, all of this being said, i think that it’s clear how cool and fun these bikes are to work with and enjoy.  There are certain maintenance issues that seemed to take a fair amount of time to work out, but most of the solutions made great sense after diagnosing and repairing.  I would like to begin by saying this quick procedure, found in the manual, solves many small issues:

1.  Power off the Turbo by lightly clicking the green lit button on the battery.

2.  Turn the key included with the bike down near the bottom bracket and hold.

3.  Lift the battery out from the downtube.

4.  Wait about thirty seconds.

5.  Place the battery (bottom first) and reinstall.

6.  Turn on the Turbo.

Essentially, taking the battery (powered down) out of the Turbo resets the entire system much like unplugging your Internet router at home or work and powering it back on after a few moments.  Every time it starts up, the Turbo passes through a set of diagnostic checks that relay to four small LEDs located right below the power button on the battery.  Each LED should blink once and then remain on until all four have lit up.  Then, all four LEDs should blink together once and then resolves into a battery level meter (each LED represents 25% battery).  If the LEDs have lit up as mentioned, the system has just checked the battery status, the motor status, the control interface status, and the lighting system status.  On the current Turbo S (versus the original model), there is a front light as well as a new integrated rear set of LEDs on the back of the saddle (nice addition).

Turbo Battery

However, at times throughout the research, I would notice one or two LEDs blink twice when the Turbo was turned on and so I checked the manual and diagnostic chart from the Specialized Service website.  Any of the four LEDs blinking twice indicates that there is some sort of fault or error with the corresponding module (battery, motor, CPU, or lights).  The lights and control interface (we’ll call it the CPU) are wired in parallel and it should be mentioned that a fault (LED blinks twice) from either might mean checking both for error.  This has happened on several occasions and could always be resolved, but a check of both modules was usually necessary.  The number one thing I found helpful to do in the case of an error was to immediately check all of the wire connections on the bike to make sure they were properly tight and paired.  In some cases, I found it helpful to use a very small amount of dielectric grease to ensure that the connection was consistent.

From all of the repairs, I have installed or replaced the following: the battery (both the same unit and upgrading the original Turbo with a new unit), bottom bracket (BB386EVO), rear derailleur (SRAM X0), hydraulic brakes (Magura), and the CPU (both updating firmware and software and installing a new unit).  One thing I have never had to replace (on a Turbo) is a spoke.  The wheels were designed and built extremely well and the Specialized Electrak tires are perfect for the bike.  Many other electric bikes I have serviced have experienced spoke breakage and warping of the rim.  As a part of the bike that most people cannot repair on the road without training and tools, it’s a great confidence to know they hold up so well, even with daily commuting, running errands, and several crashes.

I am going to add links below for each section of the review (two additional parts) for ease of navigation.  Once the link is active, the post for the corresponding link will be up.  This way, it’s easier to jump to a section if you are servicing a Turbo and can read the most relevant information.

Parts Installation (Active)

Diagnosis and Troubleshooting (Active)

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Specialized Turbo Launch

Well, I am pleased to be back with some spare time to post on the blog and interest you in an event I was at yesterday for the Specialized Turbo electric bike launch and certification.  It was a one day training session and test ride experience in South Beach Miami.  In a quick word of summary — this is the first bike I can correctly term “fast.”  With moderate exertion, we were quickly flying around the city streets with ease and style at 30 mph.

Here are a few photos I took throughout the day.  Below the slideshow is the review of the components so you’ll be more familiar with what they look like and how they function.  It is quite an all-inclusive package with sleek sexy accents and smart technology that flows right in sync with today’s popular commitment to helping the environment and being productive with technology.

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The day started with a quick summary of how to operate the controls and what to expect.  Then, we rode!  SRAM 1×10 configuration with some incredibly robust Armadillo Elite Electrak tires.  In the “most fun” mode, or full active mode, the bike can attain a speed of 45 kph (30 mph) for an entire hour!  This means, of course, that I could make the 25 mile commute to my work using the pedal assist motor to give the bike double the watts I push into the pedals and make it there in under an hour.  That’s fast.  That’s the Specialized Turbo.

I am really convinced that this design and research has led to a frontier of true “hybrid” bicycles that can realistically be used by anyone and eliminates gas usage and adds great daily exercise.  What about group rides?  Never wanted to join because of the “fast pace” and limitations of keeping up?  This bike allows you to join even an A group ride.  From every other electric bike so far, we’ve seen many drawback, problems, and general “clunkiness.”  This bike specs out at 50 lbs, which is about ten pounds lighter than previous electric-assist bicycles.

The battery is probably the most innovative of all the electric bikes out there.  instead of it being bulky and oddly placed into a rack or after-market mounted to the frame, it integrates directly into the downtube.  This means it becomes part of the bike, with an adjustable cushioning plate to take up small bits of play, which enables easy installation/removal.  The Lithium ion battery is custom designed by Swiss manufacturing and features a unique cell holding grid for the battery so vibrations, bumps, and weather do not impact the performance.  It can operate down to almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  With a built-in diagnostic tool that indicates successfully test and operation of the individual components of the electric motor system.  It also can be used for a rough battery meter indicator — secondary to the much more accurate meter displayed on the integrated computer.  You might be getting the feeling that this bike sports a lot of integration and ergonomic design.  You would be right.

The computer is the central unit for displaying important information about the status of the bike.  it can tell you the normal things a cycling Speedzone computer can from Specialized like temperature, time, speed, and distance.  It also, as aforementioned, displays battery life and modes the bike can run in.  From full active power, which adds the same watts as you input (ex, 200 watts = 400 watts total) to “eco” mode (adds 30 percent of the power you input) to no assist to regenerative mode (recharges the battery), there is a variety of function and usefulness to appropriate your battery life for just about any reasonable commute (anything under about 30 miles).  The eco mode will allow the rider to push their own way with a little support on the parts of riding that need more torque.

A brushless DC motor operates the propulsion of the added power with no moving parts inside and was custom designed from the ground up by the Swiss motor company Go Swiss Motor.  In conjunction with Specialized’s headquarters for the Turbo project in Switzerland, they made a slightly smaller motor than most that exist on electric bikes today and encased it in silicon to make it weatherproof and immersible.  So, a slightly heavy battery, a heavy motor, a rider, and added robust frame design are adding up in weight, which increases the power needed to stop — particularly when you are flying 30 mph down the road.

That leads to the brakes.  Magura MT-8 disc brakes are installed on the Turbo which have incredible stopping power and work great with 160mm rotors front and rear.  A quick side note is that, on the rear wheel disc rotor mount, the rotor bolts used need to be a bit shorter than standard ones.  They use an M5x7mm bolt rather than the normal M5x10mm bolts.  This means either shorter normal ones properly or order sets for spare parts. The most creative aspect of the brake system is the connection to the motor to disengage when the lever is actuation (pulled).  That means braking under just the weight of the bicycle and you rather than that and working against the motor.  Some electric bikes out there have this feature.  However, Specialized took it a step further.  they included the system to be able to regenerate the motor every time you actuate the brake lever.  Even if the pads don’t fully stop the wheel or even make full contact with the rotor, the regeneration mode engages, slowly building and conserving battery life.

In addition to all of this, the bike has integrated lights in front and rear that makes night commuting and riding a breeze.  They work off of the battery to a nominal degree and can be turned on at the light or on the integrated Speedzone ANT+ computer.

This bike really is it for the “car replacement” category of cycling as well as the elite tech savvy crowd interested in the futuristic design and seamless technology interface.  30+ mile rides, 30+ mph speeds, stable flat-protected tires, innovative and pleasing design meant for ease and efficiency, and simply a thrill to ride, the Specialized Turbo was everything I expected it to be and being trained on the servicing and operation by the individuals who actually designed the bike made it a memorable and focused learning experience that will certainly propel my shop to promote its use.  I am sure you’ll be asking one question throughout this whole review.  How much is it?  They retail out at $5,900 dollars.  That’s more expensive than many used cars out there.  It’s tough to justify the expense.  So, I calculated the cost of what a car costs a year paid for and what it cost the average driver in a car with payments.

25 Mile commute -One full tank of gas every two weeks = $52.00 x 26 fill ups a year =  $1352.00
Car insurance payment = $75.00 x 12 months a year = $900.00
Standard maintenance factor = $300.00
Personal Property Tax = $200.00

Grand Total = $2752.00
Now add in 12 months of a $250.00 car payment.  That then equates to $5752 per year.  That’s basically the same as the price of the bike.  And, it will certainly last you more than a year.  From the robust construction, I would guess the bike will ride great with very basic mechanical maintenance for several years before even the battery would need replacing.  Consider the benefits.  I hope you enjoyed a review of the Turbo.  It was really an awesome bike to ride and we will have them in our shops very soon so you can stop by and test ride one yourself.  I guarantee you’ll step back into the shop afterward grinning from ear to ear.  Feel free to email me or comment with questions.  I would be more than happy to answer them or find it out.

– SNC